Greece is on the verge of a great future – don’t throw it away!

What is it that defines a successful country? The wellbeing of the citizens, or the nation’s riches? The two are not the same.

Wellbeing: feeling loved and valued, health, happiness, contributing to society –these are the things that matter, that make us human. These do not come with national wealth but with equality and relationships – how people value and treat each other.

In the war, everyone was ‘in it together’ and although times were hard, apart from the obvious war wounds, people were healthy, valued and fulfilled. Society became much more equal. If Greece chooses to adopt a true attitude of unity (not like Cameron’s phony ‘Big Society’) where everyone looks out for each other, where those with more help out those with less – because they matter as fellow human beings – then Greece will thrive!

The worry is that Greece is so keen to stay in the “Euro” club that they will give up their wellbeing to do so. They are already feeling un-valued, un-loved and betrayed. They are dealing with institutions, but institutions don’t have a soul and don’t care about people, so why is Greece surprised. But they don’t have to shackle themselves to the rich man’s yoke to live well.

So long as there is food on the table and friends to eat it with, so long as their whole society unites in a common cause, they will thrive. But if they choose to be victims of the wealthy, if their society chooses to take what they can as individuals then they will indeed suffer. The richer Greeks will be materially fine but the poor will hurt, health for all will worsen, there will be riots and unrest, and productivity will reduce too – the signs are already there.

Greece is at a crossroads, but it’s not the crossroads reported in the press. It is a crossroads of its citizen’s attitude to each other. They can lead the world in showing how to be successful without being serfs to the economic barons. I hope that they choose wisely.


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Work and Pay

I think the world has become confused about work.

Instead of thinking that work is something to be endured to bring in the money we need to live, or a means of making us rich we should think of our work as our contribution to fulfilling the needs of society. We need to start thinking of it as ‘what can I give’ instead of ‘what do I get’.

And in a similar manner, society needs to think more clearly about the needs of the individual. All of us need to eat, sleep and live somewhere that we can call home. And the reciprocal side of the exchange is that when someone contributes to society, then society has a duty of love to meet the needs of that person.

Jesus told a parable of a man who hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some just before closing time. But he paid them all the same. He paid them what they needed to live. But of course, those who worked all day felt that this was not just and grumbled. Yet the vineyard owner pointed out that they were happy to work for their agreed wages, and they had received them. All the workers were willing to work. They were willing to make their contribution to society, even if there was no immediate work required. And they all had the same needs. The vineyard owner met their needs. Why can’t we follow this example?

Similarly, how do we decide how much someone should be paid? Is it according to the contribution that the job makes to society? How valuable is it to society when a person sits at a desk and manages our money? How valuable is it to society when a person removes the rubbish that we create during the week? How valuable is it to society when a person serves us a meal in a café or restaurant? I have to say that the most valued workman I’ve encountered is the one who came to clear our blocked drains when the raw sewerage was overflowing! Yet he is paid less than I am, when I spend much of my time sitting at a computer terminal.

It is not my aim to claim that job A is X times as valuable as job B, but to add into our thinking and actions that we need to be willing to pay each person sufficient to meet their needs.

Unfortunately the recent trend is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. I don’t have a problem with unequal pay, and with pay that reflects the value to society of the work. But I do take issue with a system that ignores the ‘need’ part of the equation.

Can you and I do anything? Yes we can. Even if it is only being willing to pay a fair price instead of the lowest price for goods and services.

But also, the reward for our work is more than just money. We all value the respect of our fellow human beings. One thing that we can all do is to treat everyone, in whatever job, with respect and with appreciation.

And similarly, when we are working, we can consider our work as more than just a job but as a contribution to society. The bricklayer can choose to be building a home instead of laying some bricks.

And we also need to respect those who are seeking work but unable to find it. Not only do they receive no wages, our benefit system disrespects them and prevents them making their contribution to the good of us all. Can’t we treat them like those in Jesus’ parable who were looking for work , and who at the end of the day were then paid what they needed to live.

Let’s think on these things as we go about or daily life of working, waiting, shopping and ‘consuming’.  Let’s change our attitudes.

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Financial advice from Money Box Live, or Pope Francis?

I was listening to the radio program Money Box Live last week. They were talking about pensions. It seems that if you delay taking your pension for a year then the amount of your pension increases by about 10% per year when you do take it. I guess this is a government scheme to reduce spending on pensions today at the cost of increasing it in future years, perhaps when there may be another government in power – but that’s not the point of this article. The thing that caught my attention was that they got a mathematician to describe the best time to take your pension.

The longer you delay, the higher the pension when you take it, but the less time you take it for. So if you know when you are going to die (which you can look up in statistical tables) the mathematician was working out a time at which the total amount of money you receive reaches a maximum.

All very logical and calculable, so why am I writing about it? Because it is a symptom of the cancerous thinking that underlies so many decisions today:
Our goal is to maximise the money we get, even if we only get it on the day before we die.

We forget that the more we have, even when we don’t need it, the less there is for others.

We don’t consider that the schemes we invest our money in minimise costs, such as the wages of the lowly paid, or maximise income, such lending our money at high rates of interest.

We ignore the fact that making decisions on the basis of maximising our income reinforces the extremely unfair financial systems that we have today, where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

It is not easy to turn down opportunities to make more, or spend less. It is natural to want to buy the cheapest milk, or trainers, or energy – but each decision has its consequence.
When we invest to minimise our tax bill, we are placing the burden of paying for our public services on others. We are encouraging our government to introduce ‘austerity’ measures – “sanctioning” benefit claimants if they miss an appointment (in effect, fining them 100% of their income). We place the burden of balancing the government’s books on the poor.

My mother died last year. She didn’t spend the pension she received, and her investments grew, and we were surprised at the amount of money that she left. I have to decide what to do with the money I inherited. Money Box Live would tell me to invest to maximise my income. But I agree with Pope Francis, I reject that basis for my decisions. How about you?

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There are no border controls on the Kingdom of God

Jesus taught that “the Kingdom of God is at hand”. But how do we get there? Do we need a passport, or apply for a visa? Do we have to pass an entrance test to become a citizen?
Anselm described God as supreme goodness, and John’s gospel tells us that God is love; “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. And if God is love, love is God.
But God is more than that, he has ‘person-ness’ that I describe in “Four steps of reason leading to a personal God” . So we can think of love as part of his realm, his kingdom. Therefore to live in love is to live in the Kingdom of God. Every act of goodness or love is by definition carried out in the Kingdom of God. Every time a person choses to act kindly to a neighbour, they are in the Kingdom of God. Every time they choose not to respond in a loving, good way they are choosing to live outside the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter whether they call themselves Christian, Moslem, Hindu or atheist – acting is love is acting in the Kingdom of God.
Because it is our choice whether we act, or live, in the Kingdom of God there are no border controls. God does not make any demands, or set any tests for those who want to live there. We simply decide. I choose to love, therefore by definition I choose to live in the Kingdom of God.
But by definition, if I choose to be selfish then I am not in the Kingdom of God, because selfishness is not love, and therefore is not part of the Kingdom of God. If I live selfishly, I am in the Kingdom of Me.
Clearly we move in and out of the Kingdom of God every hour of every day. Perhaps we all need to be a little more conscious of which Kingdom we want to live in.

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“You can’t support them all can you?”

Let me start by start by confessing that I am writing this to myself as much as to anyone else, and particularly to those of us who call ourselves Christians. It covers the challenging topic of giving money. Often we say, or hear others say something like, “I won’t give to that charity. You can’t support them all, can you?”  It sounds reasonable, but is it correct? Christians believe that Jesus Christ gave everything for us. He gave his life that we might have a rich and satisfying life. We believe that there is guidance in the Bible on how to live such a life. Here are some passages:

“Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” “When you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The message appears to be that yes, we can support them all. I was discussing this with my wife after looking at the distribution of income on an earlier post. When would it be OK to say no, we are giving enough? I suggested that perhaps it was OK when our income net of giving was that of the lowest on the curve – the bottom 10%. If we expect people on the bottom 10% to live full and satisfying lives on their income, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same? Elsewhere in the bible is states that:  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  So how does that fit with “sell all you have and give the money to the poor”? Perhaps it means that if we are unable to give cheerfully to anyone who asks then we need to work on our heart. Maybe we need to teach ourselves to love more. As well as listening to the advice on how to maximise our income, invest in schemes to give high interest and avoid paying tax, we need to be hearing that we can manage on less. We can still maximise our income, but to give more away instead of saving it for ourselves.  See also my post “The Wealthy are Redeemable” Yes, I am sure I am being hypocritical in writing this. But that does not make what I have written wrong. Let’s all ponder this in our hearts and see what we decide to do.


If you want some ideas, try these links:

feel free to add your own in the comments.  I’ll add them here when I get time.

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Thank God that the Conservatives won the general election.

What a headline from someone who voted for the Green Party. Why would I say such a thing? And why would I put a picture of David Cameron as my desktop background?

The problem with our country is not that we don’t have the right political leadership, but that the citizens of our nation have abdicated our responsibilities as human beings to the government.   And now we have a government that is unwilling to fulfil those responsibilities.

This abdication of responsibility has been very attractive. If my neighbour loses his job, her house or gets sick, I can sympathise with their situation and blame the government. I don’t have to do anything practical myself. When a civilised nation is relying on food banks, we bear no responsibility for the situation.

Why do I thank God for the election result?

Because we must now accept that caring for those who are the most vulnerable in society cannot be left to the government. We now have to take responsibility for our neighbour. We now have to all ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’.

We have been given a wakeup call, and we need to respond – and when we do, it will make us better people.

Most of us will help out our friends and immediate neighbours if they are in trouble, but we are likely to be in similar financial circumstances to them. It seems unfair that we have to help them out when those who are much better off than us don’t. The political argument says that the big things should be covered by taxes, and the tax system should ensure that the better off help out the worse off.   The election result is telling us that we cannot rely on a political solution. The world is not fair, but we still need to show love to our neighbour.

Who is our neighbour? Two thousand years ago Jesus was asked that same question, and in his parable of the Good Samaritan, he pointed out that everyone is our neighbour, the poor and the rich are neighbours even if they don’t live next door.

Loving our neighbour means that in all our dealings with others we must remember that they too are human beings and deserve to be treated as such: whether they are richer or poorer than us, doctor or patient, banker or borrower, unemployment officer or unemployed, teacher or pupil. We are all fellow human beings – yes, even Mr Cameron.

The political solution – the tax system – means that the richer do help the poorer, but cuts will inevitably affect the day-to-day lives of the poor.

Less than a lifetime ago, when the government was not able to provide enough services,  private individuals did their best to fill the gap. Wealthy people of the day took the responsibility of wealth seriously and responded by providing the money for essential services. It is time for the wealthy today to do the same.

It is also time for everyone to accept that having one’s living provided free of effort by the state is not a right.

Both rich and poor deserve the opportunity of being able to contribute to society through work, and through sharing resources. Of course there are times when many will struggle, through losing a job, sickness, or other mishap, and in those times we need to continue to treat everyone as human beings, worthy or respect and dignity.

So, thank God for this reminder that we are all members of the same human race, all on this lonely planet together, and that we need to take up the responsibilities that we didn’t realise that we had neglected. May each of us to respond as best we can.

income distribution UK…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

If you like the way I think and want to find out more, why not buy my book “The Big Picture”

Posted in A call to action, General, Rainbow Economy, The Big Picture, Thoughts for the day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Get off your bum and stop wasting your life!

Minimalist Christian:

Something to put all our rush into perspective and perhaps rethink our values?

Originally posted on The Red Wine Box:

20121103_233006‘Fatigue’ is not a helpful term. People think it just means that you’re really tired. Everyone has felt really tired at some point in their lives. Young parents who haven’t had a proper night’s sleep for months or even years. People working 60 hour weeks to keep body and soul together. Anyone and everyone at some time in their life has thought that a long period of rest would be a pretty wonderful thing.

One person said to me that they quite fancy some time off ‘to relax properly’ like I’m having.

Adding ‘chronic’ to fatigue just means that you are really seriously malingering!

Everyone knows that even when you’re really tired you can motivate yourself to get the necessary done. So why don’t I just get off my bum and set myself some positive targets and stop wasting my life?

Wasting life is a big theme isn’t it? Seize…

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